Blending Healthy Families: Control What You Can Control
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Since day one, my therapist has instructed me to “Control what you can control” - which isn't a lot - when it comes to my blended family.
Even with knowing exactly what to do to let go of my stepmom stress, it took me a long time to figure out how to do that.
And here’s why…
You see, when you let go of control - and things get out of control - the consequences still fall on you and come into your household.
Here’s my story.
Since the day I came into my family’s lives, they have had pooping problems. So much so, my step kids now offer up when they poop because we’ve had to track it so closely. Now, having a health background, my first response was to change their diet. But because their bio-parents don’t have that background, the kids formative years didn’t create very healthy habits and stop the problem. It just masked it, so every year at the kids well checks, they are put on a Mirolax cleanse and told to move on.
In the meantime between those well checks, we deal with misbehavior, attitudes, stomach aches, sickness and a myriad of other things. And I just think to myself - if I could control this situation, we would get to the root of the issue, stop the crap diets and heal their guts!
But alas, I only have my husband and our time with them.
And this is my lightbulb moment - Controlling what I can control means empowering the kids at ALL times to make better choices, and doing it mostly when they’re in my care.
So here’s what I’ve done:
First, I got rid of the competition. I used to think if the bio-parents weren’t going to help them be healthy, I was the only one that could. I stopped viewing it as a me vs them mentality and noticed how I could ADD to their lives. Part of the blended family is having an entire village to love and add to your kids. Think about it - how many times have you done something your mom did for you? Or read an article on the internet to learn what that weird spot was on the back of their neck? Or talked to your partner about where to invest your money for the kids’ future? Chances are, most decisions for your kids are made in tandem with someone or something else. It’s no different for a stepparent. You may have some hurdles of who will listen to you, but once you find where to add to their lives, you will probably stop feeling like it’s all up to you to “fix” them.
Honed in on meal time. Like talked about previously, we make meal time sacred. It’s not taboo, it’s not a free for all and it’s not my decision only. When it comes to toddlers, food arguments may look a little different. When introducing food to older kids, you want to maintain open with them. We always try to make food a safe space. There aren’t negotiations, there aren’t arguments, there isn’t even really force of any kind. We’ve made dinner a respected time that we enjoy. On top of that, I’ve given my kids a voice. I’ve asked them what they want to eat and what they’re into. I recently saw a post that asking a kid “what do you want” may seem overwhelming at first. But try asking “what protein do you want for dinner - chicken or tuna” and it helps narrow down the choices. Your child may feel more empowered and willing to offer up things they want. Oh and that reminds me - when they tell you a meal they want - say pizza, buffalo wild wings, or maybe a meal you just had, instead of saying “No” try adding it to the “not right now” pile. But the catch is that you have to come back to it.
I taught them what the food does for them. This is the whole basis of Empowered U. We actually talk about what food does for their body, we talk about how it makes them feel. After we have a free day with endless snacks and junk, they may get a stomach ache. After spaghetti, they may feel tired. And after eating a can of pears, they may need to run to the bathroom. They must have each of these experiences to compare and contrast their feelings. Do they like having a stomach ache? Probably not. But if they eat like that every day they may not even realize they have a stomach ache until it goes away. I like to say, we don’t know how good our bodies are designed to feel.
We practice and preach moderation. The thing my 12 year old has been asking lately is “Are we going to get a treat after dinner?” And you can say what you want about serving treats with dinner, not withholding sugar, incorporating dessert better but this isn’t about that. It’s about my daughter hearing the boundary and learning to respect it. I truly believe that in the future, she will know that sometimes it’s okay to say no and sometimes it’s okay to say yes to sugar. She will live with a choice and not a deprivation or addiction.
It’s not always easy to find your place in any family, let alone a blended one. It’s even harder when your beliefs and values are different than that of the ex.
Just remember you matter and you make a difference. Kids will act out and talk back regardless of the situation you’re in. Keep your head up and reach out with any support you need.
One recipe that we’ve had to compromise on in our family is the Sunday Roast.
See, I love mushy potatoes and carrots, but my family would rather have them crisp. I love savory beef while they love the salty goodness.
Just in time for the cooler weather, here’s my favorite Sunday Roast.
If it is just me, I follow this recipe to the T and it’s amazing!
However, since I share the house, here are my modifications.
I use the crockpot or the instant pot and follow the recipe for the beef only.
On a separate sheet pan, I prepare the carrots and potatoes by coating them with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary. Place in a 375* oven for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes.
After the beef is done, take 1 cup of the juices and add 1 T arrowroot powder or cornstarch. Stir until it thickens and use as a gravy.
There are so many ways this can go - so figure out what works best for your family!